By Nicole Rivard
N.Y. state Sen. Tony Avella’s public forum on Animal Protection Issues Jan. 17 in Manhattan brought to light many critically important issues affecting animals throughout the state that are truly a matter of life and death for these animals.
Friends of Animals’ New York Director Edita Birnkrant kicked off the forum with a discussion on a bill that’s pending in the Senate and Assembly that would ban wildlife killing contests.
“Many New Yorkers are horrified to learn that animal killing contests occur throughout the state that recruit children as young as 12, luring them with prizes as rewards for killing,” Birnkrant said. “Coyotes, crows and squirrels are species frequently in wildlife killing shootings in New York State. Senate bill 4074 would make these obscene, regressive animal killing contests illegal and Friends of Animals strongly urges passage of this bill.”
FoA led a campaign and protest in Holley, N.Y. last February against the Holley Fire Department’s Squirrel Slam Fundraiser and Birnkrant pointed out that this horrific bloody spectacle is set to occur again this year.
“We will again urge the town to cancel it and we thank senator Avella for helping with that and holding a press conference last year,” she said.
Avella commended Friends of Animals for its efforts in Holley last year.
“I know you took some heat from officials there. I am happy to do whatever we have to do again. I find it fascinating we are allowing young children to go out and shoot as many animals as they can. Whoever shoots the most animals wins the contest. It’s literally absurd,” Avella said.
Birnkrant was joined by several other animal rights and welfare groups at Avella’s animal rights forum. Avella, who represents the 11th District, said it was his hope to take the information he learned at the forum and if there isn’t existing legislation to address the issues, he would help prepare new legislation.
Prior to the forum he said, “This public forum will be an opportunity to hear from animal protection advocates about the many ways we are failing to protect animals in this state and to discuss real solutions that will result in actual changes that impact these animals’ lives.”
At the forum, Avella said he plans to work with the new administration in the City of New York, which he hopes will be much more animal friendly than the previous mayoral administration and the previous speaker of the City Council.
“I’ve been somewhat of a leader in animal rights issues going back to my time in the City Council,” Avella said, before quoting Gandhi. “You can judge a society by how it treats its animals,” he said. “We are here today to learn about what is working, what isn’t working.”
FoA’s Birnkrant also spoke about the effort to ban devocalization of dogs and cats in New York.
“This cruel barbaric surgery involves cutting the vocal cords of dogs and cats to silence their barks and meows and often creates lifelong health and breathing problems as a result,” she said. “Complications from the surgery are common and can lead to death or costly follow-up surgeries that may not be affordable to some pet owners.”
Bill number 2271 is pending in the Senate and would make it illegal for veterinarians to cut the vocal cords of dogs or cats merely to silence their voices.
“This bill has already passed in the Assembly yet has not been given a fair chance in the Senate. Devocalization is already illegal throughout the United Kingdom and Massachusetts and other areas of the world,” Birnkrant said. “We urge immediate passage of this important bill in New York as it would spare the lives of countless dogs and cats who suffer from devocalization surgeries.”
Regarding the debarking bill, Avella pointed out the industry has come out against the bill.
“Maybe what we should do is have a meeting with an industry association because I have been approached by some individual veterinarians who are in support of the debarking bill,” Avella said.
Birnkrant also called for Avella’s help to end the war on wildlife. For the past several years, urban wildlife throughout New York City has been under attack, with thousands of Canada Geese brutally rounded up from parks and even the city’s only federally protected wildlife refuge, Jamaica Bay, and sent to gas chambers or slaughterhouses. Mute swans are now also on the kill list, with the Department of Environmental Conservation’s outrageous proposal to make swans extinct in New York State by killing off the entire species by 2025 and declaring them a “prohibited species.”
Animals in entertainment
Among the groups at the forum was Long Island Orchestrating for Nature LION. President John Di Leonardo spoke on behalf of animals used in travelling circuses.
“Elephants, tigers, bears, camels, zebras and other animals used in circuses are deprived of everything that is natural to them. They spend their lives on the road virtually year round,” he said. “Animals are trained with physical punishment: bull hooks, whips, electrical prods and other devices are routinely used to inflict pain and fear to force them to perform.
“With no regard for their special needs, baby animals—a large draw for circuses—are torn form their mothers when they should still be nursing. … There is no educational value to seeing animals in unnatural conditions, abused for amusement and profit. There is no conservation value in watching animals exploited.”
Before concluding his comments, he pointed out the there is hope because nearly 40 towns and cities in the United States and 30 countries worldwide have banned or restricted the use of animals in circuses.
“Los Angeles just became the first major metropolis to pass a de facto ban on elephants in circuses, by banning bull hooks,” Di Leonardo said.
LION supports the following bills, A5407/S5971—restricting the use of exotic\wild animals in traveling shows; A6368—prohibiting circuses with recent history of Animal Welfare Act Violations; and A3154—prohibiting the use of bullhooks and other weapons on elephants. Avella pledged to sponsor the bills.
Avella also said he would give his support to a bill that would require more transparency at animal shelters, an issue that was brought to the table by The League of Humane Voters of New York.
For instance the bill would require shelters that receive public funding to report annually on intake of animals, how many are coming out alive and how many are being euthanized. The reports would need to be made available to the public.
Several attendees spoke about the horse drawn carriage trade. While it has enjoyed the unconditional support of past Administrations, Mayor Bill De Blasio has promised to ban the industry.
Avella, who wrote the original unconditional ban bill when he was on City Council, was keen on an idea to have the drivers’ existing carriages retrofitted with electric motors, like the ones featured at www.andrescarriagetours.com, a much less cost prohibitive option than the vintage electric cars that have been discussed in the media that would be rolled out so the horses could be phased out.
The money does not exist to create the new electric car industry, animal welfare groups argued at the forum, and “a three-year phase out of horse-carriages would be fool hearty and guarantee that there will be no ban.”
Retrofitted existing carriages, Avella said, would also allow the driver’ to keep their jobs.
“Hopefully we are nearing the road on this industry,” Avella said. “The electric cars are not going to help us in this issue. We’ve been talking about these vintage electric cars for years and there hasn’t been one built yet. I think we need to put an official proposal to the mayor and the speaker of the City Council that retrofitted carriages are the alternative and how this alternative can be done. Let’s be proactive instead of waiting for something to happen from the new Administration.”